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|John Reed on Global Public Relations|
John M. Reed
Global Public Relations
Reed: When he heard the owls at midnight hooting laughing in the forest what is that he cried in terror? What is that he said Nokomis? And the good Nokomis answered, “That is but the owl and owlet talking in their native language. Talking, scolding at each other.” Then the little Hiawatha learned of every bird its language. Learned their names and all their secrets. How they built their nests in summer. Where they hid themselves in winter. Talked with them when ere he met them. Called them Hiawatha’s chickens. Of all the beasts he learned the language. Learned their names and all their secrets. How the beavers built their lodges. Where the squirrels hid their acorns. How the reindeer ran so swiftly. Why the rabbit was so timid. Talked with them when ere he met them. Called them Hiawatha’s brothers.
For the past 40 years and more, I have spent my life trying to follow in the footsteps of little Hiawatha. Trying to learn of every bird its language. Trying to learn the secrets, the curiosities, and the peculiarities of the foreign cultures of groups and associations of people throughout the world. And that in essence, is what international public relations is about.
International public relations means you do it some place else. Now that sounds rather simplistic. But doing it some place else brings with it the need to understand the cultures, the curiosities, the stereotypes, the systems of peoples different from ourselves. Whenever we cross a cultural linguistic geographic border, we’re doing international PR. We do it here in the United States when we’re trying to do PR; if we are Angelo-Saxon by background and we’re trying to sell something in San Antonio, Texas to a Hispanic audience, we’re doing international public relations. But what I am going to focus on today is international public relations outside of our own boundaries.
The world is getting larger. You’ve heard it said that the world is getting smaller. But I can assure you after trotting around the world for a lot of years; it’s getting bigger all the time. And the reason it’s getting bigger is that there are two countervailing forces at work. McLuhan would have us believe that the world is a global village; that CNN and international telecommunications ties us together and we all know the same thing at the same moment. But the political and the social and cultural reality is that we’re dividing into smaller and smaller very separate villages all the time. The number of member countries in the United Nations has risen from 40 some when it began, to over 160 today. And new nations are springing up all the time. If we had a little geographic quiz, if I could reach out to you and ask you questions interactively and you could answer, and I asked you where is Belarus and what is it? And told you that it is a member of the security council of the United Nations, would you know what I meant? Do you know that that’s what Belorussia was called? Do you know where Myanmar is? They used to call it Burma. But the Burmese insisted on using the Burmese word for the country and so it’s now Myanmar. And how about Burkino Faso? How many of you have been to Burkino Faso? That used to be the Upper Volta. And so it goes. If we take a look at the world today, we see that it is splitting into smaller and smaller discrete and very nationalistic factions. Nationalistic groups, cultural and ethnic conglomerations if you wish, and international PR, which is designed to persuade people different from ourselves, becomes more complicated as we look at the world becoming smaller and smaller globally and larger and larger in terms of separate groups to persuade. When I started out, we could persuade a whole continent at a time. Now every country virtually has its own small groups. Belgium is two countries really. Half speak Flemish and half speak French and if you are doing PR in Belgium, you better know both, know how to do both. And in Africa, the number of nations is proliferating to the point where it’s almost impossible to keep up day by day. This small world has become a big complex world, a veritable jigsaw puzzle. And how to do international public relations in this kind of world is what we’ll be discussing for the next few minutes.
Public relations is about persuasion and international public relations is about persuading people who are different from ourselves, by following in the footsteps of Hiawatha. This is not a new profession. We are doing it in new ways, but the originator of international public relations, as you might expect, was someone in the Bible. The first spokesman, the first mouthpiece, the first international PR man and his name was Aaron. Now Aaron was the older brother of Moses. And when Moses was told by God to go and warn the Jewish people who were in captivity in Egypt that they should get ready, pack up, and leave, this was a big persuasion problem to get a whole bunch of people to get up and leave their homes, even though they were in captivity, they were settled and go to an unknown place--the land of Canaan. And Moses said to God “I am not a good speaker.” And God said, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you a ‘mouthpiece’. I’ll get you a spokesman.” And Moses said, “Who?” and God said, “Aaron, your older brother.” And the Bible tells us that Aaron was so successful that when he did and gave the message that he was told to give to the people of Egypt, that is the Jewish people who were captive in Egypt, they believed. And today as in the early days in the Bible, the essence of international public relations is to get people to believe.
At bottom then, public relations is persuasion, and international public relations is persuasion across borders of people different from ourselves. In the case of Aaron and Moses, the persuasion worked and the Jewish people got up, left their homes, and fled Egypt. In the case of Coca Cola, public relations hasn’t done anything until someone buys a bottle of Coca Cola and drinks it. Nothing has happened in PR until some action is taken. Someone votes Democratic or Republican. Someone contributes to the Red Cross. Joins the Army. Goes to church. Or buys a Lincoln Continental automobile. At the bottom, PR has not done its job until some action is taken.
Now in order to discuss international public relations we need to have a definition of PR itself. In 1962, while I was working for Olin Matheson Chemical Corporation as manager of International PR, I was called in to write my first budget. And I was a very nervous young man, and I had never written a corporate PR budget before. And I asked the, a friend, the sales manager how do you go about writing a budget. And he said, “Well tell them what you do. Tell the budget committee what it is you do. How is it that you serve the company?” And so I sat down, and I tried to figure out and I wrote a 5-point functional definition of public relations. I’ve been using this system ever since. I don’t think it’s the only system or necessarily the best system but it’s my system, and it has come to be followed in many countries by many companies and PR agencies. And it has now taken the name of the famous John Reed Five Point System. So let me describe it to you very briefly.
I said that we do five things. The first thing is Product Publicity. By product publicity, I mean gaining favorable attention for your product in ways other than advertising or directing sales. The purpose of product publicity is to enhance sales and profits of an institution. Every institution has a product. The Army has enlistments. The Red Cross has donations. Church has attendance on Sunday, or Saturday, or Friday. Coca Cola has soft drinks. Lincoln has Continentals. Every institution has a product, and the role of public relations is to help sell that product by doing product publicity.
The second thing we do is Corporate PR. Corporate PR means getting favorable attention for your institution without respect to products. The purpose of corporate PR is to enhance the reputation of the institution to ensure its longevity. If an institution has a bad name, people are not going to buy the products. If an institution has a bad name, people are going to lose interest. And so corporate PR is engaged in enhancing the reputation of the institution.
The third thing we do is Internal PR. I am never sure about my spelling. Internal PR means addressing the single most important audience for any institution, which is its own employees. Some people call this employee relations. But what it has to do with is enhancing and raising the esprit de corps of an institution. If you don’t have your own people with you, your institution will fail. And so a heavy amount of public relations has to be devoted to enhancing the esprit de corps, the enthusiasm, the support of your own people.
The fourth thing we do is Industry Context. Industry context PR means that no institution is an island. We don’t exist by ourselves. We are part of a community, of an environment. If you are in the hotel business you belong to not just the Hilton Hotels but you belong to the travel industry. You belong to the tourism promotion of the area where you have your hotel. You belong to business, and so you have to be concerned with the kind of water in which you are swimming. And industry context PR means working with trade associations, with lobbying, with all the things that make sure that the water in which your institution is swimming is agreeable, is suitable for your institution.
And the fifth thing we do is Management Counseling. Management counseling means providing the public relations ingredient that goes into the decision making process of an institution. Whenever a company makes a decision about building a plant, they consult the engineers, the finance department, the personnel department, and the sales department. They must consult the PR department to find out what does opening a new plant mean in PR terms. What’s the up side? What’s the down side? And management counseling in PR means providing the PR ingredient that goes into the decision making stew of any organization. All smart organizations, whether they are churches or corporations or governments, have that PR concern, and that’s what we call PR management counseling. So these then are the five points of the Five Points System.
In international PR, what it means is that we do these things some place else. We are applying these same functions to people who are different from ourselves, in cultures that are different from ourselves, and we are trying to find a way of accomplishing these functions in another place or with another people. The chief way of approaching international PR to accomplish the five points is by finding what I call the manipulative factor. And the manipulative factor is not something sinister. It doesn’t mean to manipulate in a bad way. The manipulative factor means that you are looking to find a way to push the buttons that resonate with the particular audience you are trying to reach. For example, if you were trying to do public relations in Portugal, the manipulative factors there might be the three Fs. The three things that are significant to the Portuguese that are different from ourselves perhaps. The three Fs are Fado, that’s the Portuguese music, Football that’s Portuguese soccer and Fatema that’s the Shrine to the Blessed Virgin, which indicates the religion of Portugal. If you can find a way to incorporate notions of either the music, the sport, or the religion: Fado, Football, and Fatema into your PR program in Portugal you will likely have success. And every single group of people, every tribe every village every country has something that is particular and special to them. In the United States we used to say that it was Chevrolet, apple pie, mom, and baseball. And if you could find ways of incorporating those notions into the PR you were doing you would have buttons that resonated with the American people. I am not sure that that’s still the case in this country. There may be other things. But every group of people has some special characteristic. In international PR and my life’s work has been spent trying to find out what are those buttons that you can push to help get across the ideas that you are trying to promote. Remember that international public relations and public relations in general is ethical persuasion. Unethical persuasion, you would call propaganda. We’re not concerned with propaganda. We’re concerned with trying to accomplish these five functions in an ethical and proper way.
Now how did international public relations in the modern sense begin? Well it began with a man named Antonio de Lumbard Pigafetta. Antonio is my hero. Antonio was the PR man for Magellan. Now you all know that Magellan was the first man who sailed around the world right? Wrong. He didn’t make it. As a matter of fact he was killed halfway. But he had such a clever PR fellow, Antonio, who was the only civilian to sail in the five ships with 287 people who left Spain in 1519 and only one of 18 to come back on one ship in 1521. And Antonio was so taken with Magellan that he wrote the report and he wrote the press release when the ship finally got back to Spain. And sent it to, for publication in Germany where it was published, and electrified Europe. He was so successful that today if you look up in the sky, you’ll see the Milky Way. The correct name of which is the Magellanic Cloud. And the latest rocket ship to go out to Venus is called the Magellan. And all this because of Antonio de Lumbard Pigafetta from Vecenza, Italy who wrote the report and who never mentioned the name of the captain who actually sailed the successful ship, the Victoria, which made the first circumnavigation. Antonio, of course, is my hero and it’s in his footsteps, his watery footsteps, that I’ve been trying to follow.
Now then we’ve discussed what we want to do, the Five Points. The next question in international public relations is how do we get started. Let me say at the outset that the key to international public relations is to get local help. Let me say that again. Get local help. The greatest mistake made by people going into international public relations is trying to do it themselves in some foreign country, in some culture that is different from themselves. After all the yeas I’ve spent in international PR, the one thing that I do every time, everywhere, is get somebody to help me, someone from the local culture who speaks the local language, who understands the local mores. It doesn’t matter where you are doing it or how linguistically gifted you may be; get someone who can help you locally. Who understands public relations and understands the local culture.
The second thing you should do in getting started in international public relations is to study. Make study a life long avocation for your vocation of international PR. I am asked very often what subjects should one study for background in international PR. And I suggest anthropology as number one. Anthropology teaches us how people behave and why they behave in the way they do. And since public relations is geared to changing behavior, not attitudes, not opinions, but behavior then anthropology is a very good study for international PR.
I also recommend the study of history, particularly the history of the peoples with whom you are trying to work. If you are working for public relations in Mexico, study Mexican history and so on around the world. Study of languages is very important. It’s important in studying languages, to understand that you are not studying them in order to do work in that language, but rather to help you to understand how people think. You’ll always have local help, and the local help will deal with the local language. Your study of language should be geared to understanding how people think. People think, we think in language. We think with words. Those words come from language, and the different styles and kinds of language give us an idea of how people think. Why do the Germans and the Japanese put the verb at the end of the sentence? Why does it take 25 percent more words to say the same thing in Spanish as it does in English? Why do you have to expand the amount of pages you use when you translate into Spanish? These things, these curiosities of language, help us to understand how people think.
The third thing I recommend is to go abroad. Now that sounds trite, but so many people try to do PR from their desk in Wichita, Kansas. Try to do it from behind their desk in New York City. It can’t be done unless you travel abroad, because you need to get, in addition to your studies and your history and your language, you need to get a feel, a sense of how people think and how people behave. And you only get that by rubbing shoulders with them, so I urge you, buy a ticket and go somewhere. If you can’t go on business, go on holiday. Go on foreign countries and you’ll learn how people think. You need to know how they think if you are going to try to change their behavior.
The fourth thing is to do your translating in a cultural sense not a linguistic sense. When you are translating a press release or you are translating the instructions that you are giving to your people you are working with abroad, translate it not just literally, but culturally. The secret to doing that is to have your translation made in the area where it’s going to be used. If you are going to do something in Mexico, have it translated into Mexican Spanish in Mexico. Don’t rely on a professor of Spanish at your local university. Get it done in the area where it’s going to be used, because language changes meaning and words change their values all the time. It’s very important to use the local media according to the media that is going to be effective. In the United States for instance, we think today of video. You are looking at video right now, and video is a very common thing. But in many parts of the world, video may not be the best medium to use. In many parts of the world radio is far more important than video. It’s more important than the printed word because people may not necessarily be literate or able to read or able to buy newspapers but radios are ubiquitous. I had a case where we were trying to do a promotion in a particular country and the single most important medium in that country was the newsletter of the local country club, because the country club was the place where all the opinion leaders went. It was the journal that was the little publication that they read most religiously, most regularly. And so getting a story in the local newsletter of a country club was more important than trying to get it on the television station.
And finally remember that stereotypes are true. We wouldn’t have stereotypes if there wasn’t’ some truth to them. So don’t automatically disbelieve the stereotypical things you hear about Americans or Germans or Italians or Argentineans. The chances are that there is a kernel of truth in every stereotype you hear. Pay attention to stereotypes.
Now how do we get started? Well today you have a lot easier time than there was years ago. Today there are professional PR societies that have international connections to them. The International Association of Business Communicators, for instance, now has chapters in various countries of the world. If you belong to IABC, you have access to your fellow workers in other parts of the world. The Public Relations Society of America now has a national ‘international committee’ and has international committees within local chapters in 15 or 20 cities around the United States. These international committees focus on international PR and can help you make contacts and to understand how it works.
There’s an International Public Relations Association. The IPRA has members in 60 countries. If you belong to IPRA you get the directory, and from it, you can make contact immediately with people all over the world. The IPRA also has a journal that comes out quarterly, dealing exclusively with international public relations, called the International Public Relations Review. This journal will help you to get to understand what’s going on in the international public relations field.
There’s an international directory of public relations associations around the world published you’ll be happy to know by Pigafetta Press, and this directory tells you who is doing and, and what’s being done in countries all over the world. This is published annually, and it’s another way of helping you to get started in international PR. Another journal that may be helpful is the International or the Multi-national PR Report. This is a monthly newsletter that deals exclusively with conditions and activities and what’s going on in the international field. So you can see that there is a whole host of ways that you can get attached to, or wired into, or connected to the international public relations scene. In addition, there are books that have been published recently on international PR. And you can find those in your local bookshop. Some of the books that I use personally that I found very helpful are The Leadership Secrets of Atilla the Hun. Don’t laugh. The Art of War by Sun Tzu has a lot of good information about international PR. Crane published by Crane Communications. And finally the Translator’s Art published by the Penguin Company. These books I have found helpful, along with the new books on international PR that you can get at your bookshop.
Now if this program, if this small offering has been of any interest to you or of any help, please write to me. Let me know how you liked it. Or what you didn’t like about it. But more particularly, if there’s something else you would like to have me discuss to write to me write to PO Box 39244, Washington, DC ZIP 20016. If you would like a copy of a bibliography of international PR, I would be happy to send that to you as well. If you would like to subscribe to the newsletter or buy the directory, or have any other information on international PR, please feel free to write to me. But particularly if you would like a tape like this, discussing how PR is conducted in a particular country or how any of the Five Points are carried out abroad, drop me a line. It’s been a pleasure to be with you today, and I wish you all the best in the future.